How to Start Selling and Shipping Internationally

May 20, 2014


If you’re selling and shipping only to U.S. customers, you’re missing a huge market. The Boston Consulting Group estimates the “Internet Economy” will almost double by 2016, as tens of millions of users begin shopping online from nations including China, Brazil, and Mexico and globally more than three billion people access the Internet. Of course, the idea of selling and shipping internationally can be daunting. But it can be done, so we’ve compiled some tips to help you dip your toes into international eCommerce:

  1. Choose the right products. Think about the kind of items that will be easiest to sell and ship to internationally. These include items that are:
    • Appealing to customers in the country to which you want to sell
    • Lightweight and probably fairly small
    • Not fragile or otherwise easily damaged
    • Not returned often
  2. Understand country rules and regulations. Some countries have minimal regulations; others have more. You need to know what kinds of products you are allowed to ship, what forms that need to accompany the shipment, and more. You can find out specific country rules and regulations by using this tool offered by UPS. When you do ship internationally, ShipStation will automatically generate customs forms for your shipments. Our app will auto-populate the fields necessary, including items’ descriptions & values. If it’s required for your products, you will have to enter harmonization codes, though they can be saved on a product level.
  3. Start small. Try working with a nearby country, probably English-speaking (unless you are also fluent in other languages), to make your initial move to international selling easier. Starting there helps with customer communications. While tools like Google Translate and Babelfish can help with non-English-speaking customers, and it may be something you’ll have to do eventually, it’s easier to start in the same language you speak.
  4. “We ship to Canada every day,” notes Edson Mancilla, head of logistics for hearing-aid company, Audicus, a ShipStation customer. “We occasionally ship to other countries, but shipping to Canada is easy and has fewer regulations since Canada falls under NAFTA trade agreement rules,” she says.

  5. Update your marketing messages about shipping costs & speeds. While your home page may include a banner offering “Free shipping for orders over $25,” make sure once you sell internationally you change the wording to “Free shipping for U.S. orders.” This also alerts people to the fact that you sell internationally. Additionally, if you have any automated messaging, especially pertaining to reviews or some other action dependent upon the customer receiving their order first, be aware that international shipping speeds can be drastically higher than domestic speeds. For instance, a First Class Mail package from LA to NY can be there in 3-5 business days. Internationally, it could take 3-5 weeks, so plan accordingly.
  6. Communicate ALL international shipping costs clearly to customers. In addition to the shipping costs, use the feature offered by ShipStation that states “Bill Taxes and Duties to Payor of Shipping Charges.” When you enable this feature, after you ship this order, the payor of the shipping charges (you) will be contacted to pay taxes and duties. Most international customers purchasing from the US are aware of the extra taxes & duties associated with international orders, so if you advertise that taxes & duties will be paid for, it may be a piece of good marketing content.

If you want to increase sales, start think globally. It’s a great and (usually) easy way for you to reach more customers and grow your business. By knowing the restrictions, and how to overcome them, you can overcome the international hurdle and start finding customers all over the world.